In the past, Margaret’s Grocery in Vicksburg, Mississippi may have been the perfect place for someone to pull over and get a gallon of milk on the way home. Nowadays those pulling out of the grocery driveway are more likely to leave with a couple quirky photographs and a newfound understanding of sanctification. But the future of the iconic folk art institution, which is located along the legendary Highway 61, aka the Blues Highway, is uncertain, as its owner and creator can no longer care for the space. So the Mississippi Arts Commission is working to preserve the site for tourism.
The story of the grocery begins in 1979, when Rev. H.D. Dennis promised his new wife Margaret Rogers that he would turn her humble grocery into a church commemorating divine scripture and their shared faith. Today every inch of the property is covered in Mississippi folk art: the store, the front porch arches, side chimneys, scripture garden and a school bus that serves as a sanctuary. (Check out photographer Robert Nelson’s photos here.)
Preacher Dennis laid each of the bricks himself, all the while collecting, painting and rearranging the mosaic odds and ends, Christmas lights, beads, and scripture-covered plywood throughout the building. He hoped the brightly painted grocery would provide him the opportunity to share the gospel with people passing through – which he has done for years from the bus driver pulpit to the worn gray bus-seat pews.
Unfortunately, Margaret Rogers Dennis (pictured, above) passed away last year at the age of 94. Rev. Dennis, is also in his 90s, but in good health, and he now spends most of his time at a nearby nursing home. The couple left the care of their property to Cool Springs M.B. Church, but the church is currently scrambling for the funds and resources to maintain the folk art worship space, now gradually deteriorating.
Backed by the support of people in Mississippi and outside the state, and even some enthusiasts from outside the country, the Mississippi Arts Commission is now beginning a grassroots campaign to save and restore the iconic Grocery. A community forum, open to all, will be held by the commission at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center in Vicksburg today, Thursday, August 18th at 5:30 p.m.
D. Dennis will be in attendance for the forum, which will include a slideshow of images showing the Grocery’s folk art evolution. Supporters hope to establish a non-profit corporation that will enable them to begin cleaning and preserving Margaret’s Grocery as a cultural tourism destination.
Photo: Robert Vernon